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The Secret Life of France [Kindle Edition]

Lucy Wadham
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)

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Book Description

At the age of eighteen Lucy Wadham ran away from English boys and into the arms of a Frenchman. Twenty-five years later, having married in a French Catholic Church, put her children through the French educational system and divorced in a French court of law, Wadham is perfectly placed to explore the differences between Britain and France.

Using both her personal experiences and the lessons of French history and culture, she examines every aspect of French life - from sex and adultery to money, happiness, race and politics - in this funny and engrossing account of our most intriguing neighbour.

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A delightful and illuminating book about France ... Wadham writes well, with effortless wit and keen intelligence, and knows when to draw from Napoleon's private correspondence, or the plays of Victor Hugo, in order to support some well-turned observation or other. The Secret Life of France ought to be this summer's Franco-British success. -- New Statesman

At last - a book about living in France that tells it like it is. Lucy Wadham has spent 20 years living in France and writes brilliantly about the experience. Required reading for anyone visiting France this summer, and everyone else besides.
-- Independent ~ 50 Best Summer Reads

Pithy, larded with anecdote and all perfectly true. -- Sunday Times

This beautifully clever and intellectually challenging book decodes the French way of life, as opposed to the British way of doing things, and reveals much to like about being us - and being them. -- Good Housekeeping

Wadham's elegant, measured and funny book ... penetrating insight and wonderful anecdote and dry observation .. She offers her considerable insights and her anecdotes and, like all critical Francophiles, continues to scratch her head in love and wonder. -- Independent


This beautifully clever and intellectually challenging book decodes the French way of life, as opposed to the British way of doing things, and reveals much to like about being us - and being them.

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More About the Author

Lucy Wadham is a London-born novelist who has lived in France all her adult life and raised four children there. She started writing fiction as a teenager, mostly poems and short stories with a darkish bent. While reading English at Oxford University she, like many aspiring female writers, developed a fixation with Virginia Woolf and begun mooning about in long cardigans and sensible shoes. She had her first child at 21 and was pregnant with her second when she sat her final exams in 1987, after which she moved to France to be with her French husband.

Her first novel, 'Lost', published by Faber and Faber in 2000, was a thriller about a woman whose son is kidnapped while they are on holiday in Corsica. Highly acclaimed for its pace and passion, 'Lost' was nominated for the Golden Dagger crime fiction award and was twice optioned for the screen .

'Castro's Dream', another thriller, was inspired by her work as a freelance journalist investigating the Basque separatist movement, ETA. It tells the story of the love and rivalry between Astrid and Lola, two sisters whose involvement with the terrorist organisation catches up with them after twenty years when their friend and former lover, Mikel, is released from prison.

'Greater Love' "...Twins Aisha and Jose are brought up in Coelhoso, a remote hill-top village only just out of the Middle Ages. The product of a neglected childhood - their mother was raped - Jose never learns to speak, while Aisha, age 20, escapes to Paris. Jose eventually joins his sister, inauspiciously arriving in the city on September 11 2001. The two siblings carve out new lives: Aisha learning about sex and philosophy under the guidance of a Left Bank intellectual; Jose finding his voice with the help of a charismatic Muslim sheikh. At the heart of the ambitious literary saga lies Aisha's quest to understand her brother, and her own part in his final, catastrophic breakdown. Moving from Portugal to Paris, Morocco to California, Wadham manages to endow each chapter of Aisha's life - any section of which might have made a novel in itself - with a stark authenticity." (The Independent).

Her latest book and first work of non-fiction, 'The Secret Life of France', is a memoir of her marriage to a Frenchman and her discovery of a culture that has, over the past 20 years, baffled, appalled, charmed and conquered her.

She is currently working on a novel loosely based on her experience of growing up in a family of five powerful women.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
67 of 70 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mix of personal history and French history 1 Aug. 2009
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Like many others I'm sure, I have a secret fantasy about moving to France based on my many holidays to that country over the years. Having read this book though, I'm not so sure that this is a very good idea! Starting with her courtship and marriage to a Frenchman in the 1980s, through to the present, divorced, but still living in France, Lucy Wadham explains some of the differences between our "Anglo-Saxon Culture" and the French way of looking at the world. The areas are wide-ranging, from sexual manners, the importance of appearance, attitudes to breast-feeding, the French school system, French healthcare, social system, politics, foreign policy, and more.
It's a more serious book than I was perhaps expecting, certainly with some humour, but also with a lot detailed discussion of history, politics and France's relationship with her ethnic minorities, and her response to terrorism. Certainly, it will give you some insight into the correct tone to adopt towards your boulanger, but it also deals with other more weighty issues than this.
If I have a criticism it is perhaps that this book doesn't quite catch the diversity of France, based very much on what Wadham experienced in her own circle. For example, she does touch on French rural life, but a more in-depth analysis of the differences between the city-dwellers and the proudly titled French "peasants" is beyond the scope of this book, perhaps understandably, but it is a shame nonetheless.
Definitely worth reading if you love France but find the French rather enigmatic as some light will be shed on the mysterious ways of our Gallic neighbour!
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars TO STAY OR NOT TO STAY 1 Sept. 2009
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
That was the question that faced Lucy Lemoine (nee Wadham unless that is just a nom de guerre) when she ended her 20-year marriage to a Frenchman. She had to decide whether it was nobler in the mind to suffer the talk and habits of outrageous Frenchmen or to pull up stumps and cross the sea to England, and maybe find that better. She had actually once gone along to apply for French citizenship, and had been so appalled by the rudeness of the civil servant she encountered that she changed her mind on the spot. However when it came to the later decision she elected to stay in France after all, although significantly not in Paris.

Myself, I have been to France ten or eleven times, including my honeymoon in Corsica, but reading this book makes me think I probably know the place better from television and maybe a few films than from my stays there. Nothing Lucy Wadham says about France or the French surprises me, and although my knowledge of it all seems somehow second-hand I think I can understand to a fair extent what she is talking about. She starts her narration where she ought to start it as a young woman, with the relations between the sexes, partly but not mainly her own experiences. I am not going to précis her findings: I shall say only that she has a very interesting slant not only on the work/life balance of the French but on the balance between their commitment to marriage, their adherence or otherwise to Catholic moral teaching, and their attitude to sexual relations generally. A lot of the interest of this part of the book may be unintentional, by giving us insights into her own mental and emotional processes. She is obviously very sharp and analytical, for instance, but if the word `love' occurs at all in this context I think I must have missed it.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tres bien 19 Aug. 2009
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book, which tells BBC journalist Lucy Wadham's first person account story of how she moved to France at the age of eighteen, fell for a Frenchman, subsequently married him and had his children. Her narrative style flows well and is easy to read and as a result, the book really draws you into her story. I particularly liked the way in which Wadham writes how she immersed herself into the French way of life without losing her wry English sense of humour and scepticism.

The chapters which cover subjects such as the French way of committing adultery `the secret garden', being a woman, childbirth, comedy and education are all well-crafted and blend Wadham's own experiences with published sources. I must confess that I wasn't aware of many of the issues raised and laughed when I read that French women are issued with a special device to tone their pelvic floor muscles after birth - can you imagine the NHS issuing such a widget? The chapter on education was also excellent and in many ways shows up the inadequacy of the English state system.

From a personal point of view, I didn't enjoy the latter chapters a great deal because although they were well-researched and punchy, subjects such as terrorism and foreign policy don't really float my boat. Saying that, Wadham's description of President Sarkozy was very amusing and I won't repeat it here! All in all, a good read and a book which manages to pack in a great deal of information and present it in an accessible way and as a result, I'll be seeking out Wadham's other titles.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A very personal account of France 3 Aug. 2009
By emma who reads a lot TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'm surprised more reviewers haven't mentioned how very personal this book is. Wadham married a French man, leaving university halfway through to bunk off with him and ten months later had a little French baby too. I was fascinated to read between the lines of the book, actually - there is a section which implies all French upper class people like going to orgies and proposing affairs to their friend's wives, but I suspect this says more about Wadham's husband and his social circle than about French society as a whole!

The same applies for many bits of the book (for example the long-running discussion of her husband's previous girlfriend, sorry, but I found this boring) and I found this a bit annoying hence only 3 stars. But actually, the bits where she was more journalistic and detached I enjoyed more, but even there, cliches were trotted out: you have to stay in hospital for three days if you have a baby in France - I repeated this to a French friend who is a new mother, who totally denied it; the stuff about the French under Nazi occupation; the stuff about their civil service and their sense of rights and duties. I have heard this all before elsewhere and would have liked to hear a new version of the story.

Finally it sometimes felt that there was nothing in this book about the France and the French people I know: generous, kind, expansive, sensual, Anglophile, passionate, clever, proud, thoughtful and terribly friendly. I don't recognise the women who lack 'sisterhood' and who are unable to form proper friendships, shown in this book. My experience is exactly the opposite, and in the end, it's just personal objections on my part that make me disagree with Wadham's account of the country she has lived in for so long.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 15 days ago by DerekWilliamR
5.0 out of 5 stars a good read
If you really want to know what makes the French tick, how they view their politicians, the divide between the bourgeoisie and the paysan then this is the book to enlighten you.
Published 1 month ago by david mulliner
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb
Superb - and very amusing
Published 3 months ago by Andrew Russell
5.0 out of 5 stars What you didnt know
What you didn't know
Published 4 months ago by Tony Dean.
5.0 out of 5 stars A very insightful analysis of the French mind set that offers a great...
An in depth look at French life, and particularly politics' over the last fifty years.
A very insightful analysis of the French mind set that offers a great deal of... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Charlie Lawson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 5 months ago by MLIRE
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 7 months ago by Virtualpict (Scotland)
5.0 out of 5 stars completely changed my understanding
I thought I understood the French, I even managed a staff of over 300 in Grenoble for 4 years, I had language and culture lessons for years and yet I realise, after reading Lucy... Read more
Published 12 months ago by J. Linwood
5.0 out of 5 stars Book tells me more about France than any history lesson
I loved this book. It provided a great insight into the French people and their customs. On the Iraq war I learnt more from this book than I have done watching tv and reading... Read more
Published 13 months ago by maggiew
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed
I had hoped this lady would have written more about her surroundings, her flat, French clothes, her shopping and cooking, but it was all about French politics and I skipped most... Read more
Published 14 months ago by buccinator
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